JANUARY 27, 1997

 The Edwards Agency


East Ridge explores African dance and music

Ocheami dancers

Ocheami Dance Company member Amma Anang (right) and Mrs. Radovich's second graders Amy McCaskill, Kylie Parry, and Victoria Whitemer growl like lionesses at East Ridge Elementary last Thursday. Ocheami, which means "spokesperson" in Ghanese, take their West African dance and music to schools, thanks to funding by the King County Arts Commision.
Photo by Andrew Walgamott/Northwest News.

Ocheami by Andrew Walgamott
Ocheami, a touring dance company, brought its West African vibes to East Ridge Elementary for three days last week. Funded by a grant from the King County Arts Commission, Ocheami is part of a multi-year program to integrate music and dance with second and sixth grade curriculum at East Ridge and other schools in King County.
   "Dance is joy! Dance is movement! What better way to celebrate being alive than moving our bodies," said Amma Anang, a member of Ocheami who was teaching at a workshop last Thursday.
   She and husband Kofi instructed students on how to communicate through body language. Amma led a dance where the children mimicked her as she cupped her ear, shook her head and waggled her finger. Kofi lent rhythm with his drum. Each dance move was an easily recognizable sign that students could grasp. When all the signs were put together, it was a little like "do, re, mi."
   For other classes, Kofi put down his drum and took up the kalimba (called elsewhere in Africa a sansa or likembe). A plucked instrument, the kalimba consists of taut metal bands of varying lenghths sit above a resonating wooden board that are played with the thumb. ("Don't call it a thumb piano!" says Kofi.) He told the story of girl who lost her money on the way to the grocery store as he strummed the kalimba. The students sang chorus in call and response style.
   Ocheami came to East Ridge thanks to the hard work of Jesse Jaramillo, an instructor who teaches dance at East Ridge and Cottage Lake Elementaries. Jaramillo was instrumental in the process of getting the Arts Bridge grant for Co-Motion Dance Company from the King County Arts Commission. With the funds, Ocheami and other facets of Co-Motion Dance Company tour schools and universities.
   "The program centers around dance, and is integrated with curriculum the students are studying," says Jaramillo of the Arts Bridge program at East Ridge and Cottage Lake.
   Other workshops in the program include music and dances of Latin America, early American music, integration of visual arts with dance, and dance as a communication tool. In February, third graders at East Ridge will be studying Pacific Rim rhythm and texture.